Survival Guide: Choosing The Proper Camp Site

  • Posted on: 16 October 2016
  • By: Jim jones
camp fire with kettle steaming

Perhaps the most important decision you will make in a survival situation is where you choose to make camp. There are 4 main conciderations when choosing a proper camp site, referred to as the Four W's. But there are a few other important factors that will also need to be considered.

  • For how long do you intend to stay in the location?
  • If staying more then 1 night, are there enough available resources to support you(and your group)?
  • Is the area large enough to accommodate your party(and gear), with ample work space?

Any camp that will be used as a longer term base camp will need to be carefully examined so as to not deplete the available resources prematurely.

The Four W's:

  • Wood
  • Water
  • Wind
  • Widow Makers

When deciding on a spot to make camp, always ask yourself these questions:


  • Do I have a source of wood close enough to this location to complete the tasks I plan for this camp? This could include making a debris shelter, a raised platform to sleep on, a tripod, tools, for cooking etc.?
  • Is there enough firewood to last the duration of my stay? Look for an area with plenty of dead fall to make your firewood collection easier.
  • Do I have the tools to access the wood?

To get a fire built quickly, you generally want to use a softer wood, such as Poplar, Pine or Cedar. But for a longer lasting fire and for cooking you will want a harder wood like Ash, Hickory or Oak.


  • Is there a convenient water source, that is close to camp?
  • Is the water source a stagnant or flowing? Any ground water will need to be boiled at the least, but filtering prior to boiling is preferred when possible.
  • Is the water source attractive to other game animals? Are fish present? This would provide access to a possible food source. 


When selecting a camp, you need to think about wind. In the summer months wind can be leveraged to take advantage of convective cooling. But in the colder months, this same advantage becomes a life threatening disadvantage and may cause hypothermia.

Other factors to consider are the effects of the wind on your fire. Could the wind spread hot coals into the camp, causing a dangerous forest fire? Or is the wind going to blow smoke in your face, and into your shelter all night?

Camping on a ridgeline leaves you exposed to the wind, while camping in low laying areas leaves you dealing with colder temperatures. Remember that heat rises while cold air settles at ground level. Choosing a mid to higher ground camp is the best choice where possible.


Widowmakers are standing dead trees or broken branches that have not yet fallen to the ground. These can be blown over by a gust of wind at any moment and can cause serious injury or death. Do not make camp within the fall radios of a standing dead tree.

Other considerations when choosing a camp site:

  • Avoid dry wahses or depressions as these may be prone to flash flooding or water runoff in wet weather. Flash floods can occur due to a storm miles away. 
  • Don't make camp on the edge of a water source. Water attracts insects and predators. And there is always the chance of flooding.
  • Avoid areas that could be subject to rock slides.


Following these guidelines when choosing a camp site will not only keep you safe in the wild, but will make for a much more pleasant experience. A little common sense, coupled with a little knowledge will keep you safe and ready for the miles ahead.

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